One of Donald Trump’s alleged charms is that he talks like a regular guy. His voters like that he doesn’t put on airs or act as though he is better than they are. As he said at the Republican National Convention, “I am your voice.” If that’s the case, the Trump voters of America all sound like TV mobsters lately because President Trump has been doing his best impression of Tony Soprano. Not for the first time, of course. Trump has often copped the attitude of a mob boss, but he’s really ratcheted up the gangster talk lately, and with good reason. The feds are breathing down his neck.
It started last week with a tweet responding to the news that his White House counsel had been interviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller’s office for 30 hours:
The failing @nytimes wrote a Fake piece today implying that because White House Councel Don McGahn was giving hours of testimony to the Special Councel, he must be a John Dean type “RAT.” But I allowed him and all others to testify – I didn’t have to. I have nothing to hide……
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 19, 2018
Since then, Trump has made statements obviously designed to reassure his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort that if he keeps quiet he may receive a presidential pardon for his multiple felony convictions. Trump even went so far as to have his attorney, Rudy Giuliani, a former federal prosecutor who made his bones putting away mobsters in New York, send a message through the Washington Post that Manafort’s up for a pardon once Mueller delivers his report:
Trump’s lawyers counseled the president against the idea of pardoning anyone linked to the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, according to Giuliani, saying Trump should at least wait until special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has concluded his probe.
He might as well have been blinking morse code: “Just hold on, Paulie, the boss’ll spring you once he takes care of Bobby the Gumshoe.” (The question of why Trump would consult with his personal lawyers, instead of the White House counsel or the Department of Justice pardon office, for advice on this issue answers itself.)
Trump himself has made it clear exactly what he expects:
I feel very badly for Paul Manafort and his wonderful family. “Justice” took a 12 year old tax case, among other things, applied tremendous pressure on him and, unlike Michael Cohen, he refused to “break” – make up stories in order to get a “deal.” Such respect for a brave man!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 22, 2018
You’ll note that he’s not feeling fond toward Cohen, his former goombah, whom Trump clearly sees as having stabbed him the back. The feeling is mutual. Cohen’s attorney Lanny Davis has said Cohen would not accept a pardon from Trump. That’s probably another appeal to Mueller to offer Cohen a deal and reduce his sentence, but it’s pretty bold nonetheless. Cohen clearly realizes that Trump will never pardon a rat like him.
But perhaps the most telling mafioso-style comment came in the “Fox & Friends” interview during which Trump claimed that “flipping” (known to non-criminals as “cooperating with the government”) is unfair and should be outlawed. He said he’s had many friends suffer from its use, which says a lot about the company he keeps. And he once again went on and on about how he believes in omertà or, as he calls it, “loyalty.” He was especially upset — all over again — at Attorney General Jeff Sessions. When asked if he was planning to fire him he said:
We have somebody that they seem to like to go after [a] lot of Republicans … I put in an attorney general who never took control of the Justice Department. Jeff Sessions, never took control of the Justice Department. It’s sort of an incredible thing. It’s a very, very sad day. Jeff Sessions recused himself, which he shouldn’t have done or he should have told me. Even my enemies say that Jeff Sessions should have told you that he was going to recuse himself and then you wouldn’t have put him in. He took my job, and then he said, “I’m going to recuse myself.” I said, “What kind of man is this?”
Trump also insulted the Department of Justice and the FBI, implying they are all a bunch of partisan hacks even as he insisted that the rank and file of the FBI all support him.
It’s long been obvious that Trump is desperately trying to force Sessions to quit so that the Republican senators who’ve insisted that Trump will face big problems if he fires Sessions can be appeased. With the exception of one early resignation attempt which Trump grudgingly rejected, Sessions has been stoically absorbing the president’s insults in order to carry out their mutual agenda. This time he was forced to respond, likely because the department demanded their leader defend them and make clear that the Department of Justice isn’t Trump’s personal goon squad and protection racket.
Sessions said that the “Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations” and that “no nation has a more talented, more dedicated group of law enforcement investigators and prosecutors than the United States.” Then he pointed out that he really was doing Trump’s bidding by enacting their antediluvian policies to take America back to the ’50s — meaning the 1850s.
It appears that Sessions will need to hurry if he wants to get it all done, however. Shortly after he released his statement, Sens. Lindsey Graham, (R-S.C., and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, made it clear that their previous commitment to protecting Sessions — and, by extension, the Mueller investigation — was no longer inviolable. In fact, they provided a roadmap for Trump to end his nightmare at long last.
Graham told Bloomberg that Trump is “entitled to an attorney general he has faith in, somebody that’s qualified for the job, and I think there will come a time, sooner rather than later, where it will be time to have a new face and a fresh voice at the Department of Justice.” He went on to make clear that he shouldn’t be fired before Brett Kavanaugh can be jammed through confirmation or before the midterm elections, pretty much giving Trump the green light to pull the trigger in November.
Grassley, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, had previously said he wouldn’t schedule any confirmation hearing to replace Sessions. Now he says he thinks he could fit them in. Mind you, Trump doesn’t actually need a replacement to take out Mueller. He can put some previously confirmed consigliere in the job on a temporary basis and, as they say, make him an offer he can’t refuse.
Trump is so overwrought that it’s likely these senators realize he’s going to do it, and are simply trying to hold him off long enough to get their Supreme Court justice and survive the November election. They will sell their souls for those two goals. Even if they lose their majority — which is much likelier in the House than the Senate — their help with this little problem will turn them into made men, ready to go to the mattresses to fight an impeachment conviction against the big boss. It’s all in the family.